John Horn has the lowdown on the troubled Spider-Man musical, from details about the script to the grim story of a behind-the-scenes tragedy that nearly derailed the most expensive production in the history of Broadway. Here’s an excerpt. — Geoff Boucher
As this Spider-Man tale opens, the audience sees New York City “on fire and in ruins” as “a section of the Brooklyn Bridge ascends with Mary Jane bound and dangling helplessly from the bridge.” Soon thereafter, a new villainess called Arachne flies into the picture spinning her own deadly trap, and as Spider-Man battles all kinds of criminals he’s swinging right over the audience.
It sounds like the 3-D opening for the next “Spider-Man” sequel, and even though this superhero story is filled with Hollywood-style special effects, it is instead a glimpse from a confidential script of a planned “Spider-Man” musical — the priciest undertaking, and among the most troubled productions, in Broadway history.
Theater producers are always looking for the next movie-inspired musical blockbuster, and the pedigree of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” couldn’t be more stellar: Sony’s three Peter Parker movies have grossed nearly $2.5 billion worldwide, the musical’s songwriters Bono and the Edge have shipped more than 50 million U2 records domestically, and writer-director Julie Taymor’s “The Lion King” has earned in excess of $3.6 billion around the globe.
But rather than develop into a surefire hit, “Spider-Man” the musical instead has turned into a tangled web of production delays, unpaid bills and costly theater renovations that even Peter Parker’s alter ego would struggle to escape, according to interviews with half a dozen people close to the show who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the show and its finances. Given its immodest ambition to “reinvent Broadway,” the musical’s budget has soared into the stratosphere: a staggering $52 million, counting theater renovations, according to one person familiar with its finances — more than double the cost of 2006’s “Lord of the Rings” musical, one of the most expensive musicals ever.
Like any compelling superhero story, “Spider-Man’s” real-life final act is a cliffhanger.
Despite all the talent the musical has in its corner, it’s still far from certain when — or even if — the elaborate musical will open after six years of development, as it has struggled to find a deep-pocketed backer to close a massive budget shortfall. If the show doesn’t premiere by the end of April, it not only will miss Tony Award eligibility but also face the expiration of the musical’s license from Marvel Entertainment, whose comic-book division created the enduring superhero in 1962. Bono and Edge, seem bewildered by the show’s odyssey. “But who cares?” Bono said. “The visuals and the music are amazing, and that’s what will matter.”
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– John Horn
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Credit: Sam Raimi photo by Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times